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A Tale of the Epiphany
Continued from page 2
'Away with thee!' he cried; 'as well bring me a screaming parroquet for a model.'
The angry voice stopped Beppino's cries for a moment, and he gazed across, his brown eyes full of tears, and his lip still quivering and ready to start afresh. The mother gently chafed the little blue hands and spoke soothing words, and Maria clapped her hands and played bo-peep to make him laugh. But it was all no use. Beppino found the world a cold, unkind place, and the sobs broke out again even louder than before.
'There, take him away,' said the painter, 'it is but waste of time,' and he stood gloomily looking on as the woman wrapped Beppino in her old shawl once more and took Maria's hand in hers. Very wearily she walked towards the door, followed by the tap, tap of Brigida's crutches behind. Then for one moment she paused and looked round. Could she ask for just a little help? She had never begged of any one before, but to-morrow was the festa, and there was nothing for the children to eat. It was some weeks now since poor little Beppino's mother had died, leaving him alone and uncared for, and he had had his share of love and daily bread with her own two little ones. But an extra mouth, however small, was difficult to fill, and to-day she did not know where to turn to for help. She looked wistfully at the tall figure with the stern face standing there. She tried to speak, but the words would not come. If he would but give her one kindly glance she might find courage. But a dark frown had gathered on the painter's forehead, and he turned impatiently from her beseeching look and stood before his picture.
With a choking sob the woman held the baby closer and went slowly through the door and down the long flight of stone steps. It was no use looking at the fowls now or dreaming of gay presents. Brigida saw the tears stealing one after another down her mother's cheeks as they silently trudged homewards.
'Thou art not angry with the little one, mammina?' she asked anxiously. 'It is not easy to sit and smile when one is cold and sleepy.'
The woman shook her head and tried to smile.
'Poor lamb,' she said; 'no, it is no fault of his, but there will be no festa for us to-morrow.'
Maria opened her mouth and gave out one long, loud wail. No good food, no sweet cake, no toy; it was more than she could bear.
'Hush thee, hush now,' cried Brigida, bending down to kiss the miserable little face. 'I promise thee thou shalt have a beautiful present all thy own,' and she gave a mysterious little nod and smile, which put a stop to Maria's tears like magic.
Meanwhile, in the cold, bare attic the painter stood motionless before his picture and then sank down in his chair in an attitude of deep despair. All his hopes had been set on this one picture, his greatest and his best. He knew that the work was good, but he began to fear now that it was beyond his power to finish it. He saw nothing but the blank where the Christ-child's face should be, the centre and heart of the whole picture, till at last he covered his eyes with his hand that he might shut out the sight of his bitter failure and disappointment.
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